Two of this year’s higher profile Sundance debuts are making their way to theaters this weekend. Late Night by director Nisha Ganatra, starring Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling, was an eight-figure acquisition by Amazon Studios at the festival. The dramedy is heading out to several New York and Los Angeles locations today, but will break into wide release next weekend. Joe Talbot won the best director prize at Sundance in January for his film The Last Black Man in San Francisco, which heads out via A24 today in New York, L.A. and San Francisco. Neon label Super LTD is giving an exclusive start for doc This One’s For The Ladies at the Magic Johnson Theater in Harlem this coming week before adding more cities. The title is a rare NC-17 roll out for a non-fiction film. Also launching is Cork’d Entertainment thriller The Child Remains with Suzanne Clement in a day and date release.
Among other limited releases this weekend is CBS Films doc Pavarotti by director Ron Howard, beginning its roll out in 19 locations in North America. It will expand to about 200 theaters by its third weekend. Other Specialty titles include IFC Films’ Tribeca premiere Framing John Delorean with Alec Baldwin; Metrograph Pictures’ first release The Raft, which won a prize at CPH: DOX as well as Chasing The Dragon 2 and The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil, both from Well Go USA.
Director: Nisha Ganatra
Writer: Mindy Kaling
Cast: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, Max Casella, Hugh Dancy, John Lithgow, Denis O’Hare, Reid Scott and Amy Ryan
Distributor: Amazon Studios
Amazon Studios made headlines at the Sundance Film Festival in January following its acquisition from 30West of dramedy Late Night by director Nisha Ganatra from a script by Mindy Kaling who also stars in the film opposite Emma Thompson. The title reportedly went for a record $13M for U.S. rights. Amazon Studios is opening Late Night in New York and L.A. Friday before going wide next week.
“The audience reaction was phenomenal at Sundance and we had a great feeling coming out of the premiere,” said co-Head of Movies for Amazon Studios, Matt Newman. “There was an all-night auction, [but] it was clear it was something we had to have. You know it when you know it.”
Late Night centers on talk show host Katherine Newbury (Thompson). The only woman ever to have a long-running program on late night, she keeps her writers room on a short leash – and male. But when her ratings plummet and she is accused of being a “woman who hates women,” Katherine puts gender equality on her to-do list and impulsively hires Molly Patel (Kaling), a chemical plant efficiency expert from suburban Pennsylvania, as the first and only female on her writing staff. With rumors swirling that Katherine is being replaced by a younger, hipper male host, she demands that the writers make her funny and relevant again. A lifelong fan, Molly is determined to prove she’s not just a diversity hire, but the one person who can turn her idol’s career around.
Newman said that the feature’s combination of stars and humor were among the factors in the decision to take the title wide following its initial New York and L.A. showings this weekend. “Every movie is unique and we always try to find the right [release strategy]. It’s something we discuss all the time,” said Newman. “With [the combination of] Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling, there’s an opportunity to go wide with this movie. People will want to come out. It’s very topical and the humor is great.”
Newman noted that Kaling took part in a Q&A that was streamed to 300 screens across the U.S. last week, while both she and Thompson have been active in other areas of promotion. “Mindy’s Instagram is very busy with this movie and Emma has done a lot of great press. They also went to CinemaCon. Mindy Kaling was also on Ellen this week.”
Last week the film was featured as a part of the “Co-Worker’s Late Night Out” screening program in in the top 25 markets where audiences were encouraged to bring colleagues. Each market hosted specially themed “eventized” screenings.
“Late Night has wide appeal for both men and women,” said Newman. “It will skew a bit older to 25-plus and women may be the more likely group to drive people to the movie, but men have been walking out loving it. The comedy is perfect for both.”
Late Night will bow Friday at The Landmark in West L.A. and Arclight Hollywood as well as the Angelika and AMC Lincoln Square in New York before expanding to 1,500-plus theaters on June 14.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco
Director-writer: Joe Talbot
Writer: Rob Richert
Cast: Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Tichina Arnold, Rob Morgan, Mike Epps, Finn Wittrock, Thora Birch, Danny Glover
Filmmaker Joe Talbot won the Directing Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival for his feature The Last Black Man in San Francisco, opening Friday. The drama is based on the true story of Jimmie Fails, who also stars.
Talbot, Fails and a the producing team including Khaliah Neal initially pursued a feature, but then decided to make a short based on the same story. The short, American Paradise, played well at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and became instrumental in pushing the feature project forward.
In The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Jimmie Fails dreams of reclaiming the Victorian home his grandfather built in the heart of San Francisco. Joined on his quest by his best friend Mont, Jimmie searches for belonging in a rapidly changing city that seems to have left them behind.
Producer Khaliah Neal was on the lookout for projects after departing Focus Features in early 2015. She spotted a project listed by the Bay Area organization that was then known as The San Francisco Film Society (now SF Film).
“I found Joe’s email online and reached out cold and told him I’m a producer. We met after that and hit it off,” said Neal. “I read a draft of the script — only 50 pages at the time — and I could see the vision. We started developing it together.”
At the time, Talbot had very limited directing experience. The team focused on making connections with established organizations to get their acknowledgment of the project’s merits. “Strategically we know it’s hard to break a new filmmaker,” said Neal. “We wanted to stand out from the crowd, so we aligned with tastemakers like Sundance. We both got into the [Sundance Labs] and we were given office space through the San Francisco Film Society. We also received a grant from Cinereach, and we developed materials with the idea that the film would live or die based on that. We got great meetings but nobody pulled the trigger.”
The filmmaking team then decided to create a short film, which would showcase their vision on the big screen. American Paradise went on to play at Sundance in 2017 where it was received well.
“Then boom. All the pieces fell together with the short film,” said Neal describing the short’s reception in Park City. “Agencies started chasing Joe and he ended up with CAA. Others who we had met with previously reached back out to us. CAA introduced us to Plan B. It’s crazy. All you need is one ‘yes.’ The one ‘yes’ was Plan B, which surpassed our wildest dreams.”
Plan B boarded the project in the fall of 2017 and then A24 came on in December. On the creative side, the filmmaking team’s experience with American Paradise helped fine tune their approach to The Last Black Man in San Francisco.
“We were planning to dive into the script after learning everything from American Paradise,” explained Neal. “Joe wanted to expand and contain certain things. Because we had spent a good eight months of 2016 on American Paradise, we had a fresh approach to the feature. We also had notes from Plan B along with a sizable collaborative in the Bay Area. It was the genesis of Joe and Jimmie, but also encompassed this group who understood the struggles of the Bay Area.”
The feature was shot over 25 days in the spring of 2018 with additional half-day pickups. Noted Neal about the shoot: “It was challenging. The vision and scope are big and it’s a love letter to the city. The [production] moved around the city a lot. It’s not like in New York, L.A., Georgia or Louisiana which have a lot of productions…”
Along with its director win at Sundance, The Last Black Man in San Francisco received a U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award. The title bows this weekend at select locations in New York, L.A. and San Francisco, with additional cities set for June 14 ahead of a nationwide expansion on June 21.
This One’s for the Ladies
Director: Gene Graham
Subjects: C-Pudding, Poundcake, Tyga & Raw Dawg, Sweet Tea, Young Rider, Blaze, Michele, Double Trouble, Satan, Fever
Distributor: Super LTD (Neon)
Neon head Tom Quinn discovered a trailer for doc This One’s For the Ladies back in the early days of the company. The distributor, though its Super LTD label, then began tracking the film. “[Tom Quinn] sent it to me,” said Super LTD exec Dan Omera. “We didn’t know the director, [but] we saw the trailer and decided we had to see it.”
After connecting with filmmaker Gene Graham, Super LTD viewed a cut of the feature and were impressed by its imagery and story. “We were struck by how sex-positive, erotic and joyful it was and you don’t often see black women this age represented on the big screen,” added Omera. “Gene Graham says it’s important to him to show black working class people depicted on screen as they are. It has heart, great characters, and is funny.”
This One’s For the Ladies captures a gathering taking place on Thursday nights in which hundreds of women get together for a “potluck celebration” and the chance “to throw singles at the hottest dancers in New Jersey.” The documentary is one of the only non-fiction titles to be released theatrically with an NC-17 rating.
The company announced its acquisition of the title following its SXSW ’18 premiere. “Since last year’s SXSW, we’ve been [showing] it around the country…finding our audiences and creating special experiences,” said fellow Super LTD exec Darcy Heusel. “[Festival screenings] over 14 months allowed us to figure out who wants to see this film. We wanted to find dates that would bring the house down and celebrate it.”
Super LTD decided on June, which of course coincides with Pride month. Heusel and Omera saw the month as perfect for This One’s For the Ladies. “One of the dancers represents the LGBT experience; [the film] is about sex positivity and freedom of expression, so it felt great for a summer release,” said Heusel, adding: “We want to keep the film within the director’s vision. You will see full-frontal, but it’s so much more than that. We wanted to keep the NC-17 director’s cut…”
Heusel noted that security will ensure audiences are 18 and up. “We don’t know how much [the rating] will limit it, but we’ll follow and support the film as the audience demands,” said Heusel. “There will be ‘eventized’ versions [of showings] in other cities. Added Omera: “We’re hoping that dancers and women will spread the word to local circuits and create events of their own.”
This One’s For the Ladies, which is the fifth release under Neon’s Super LTD label, will have an exclusive one week run at the Magic Johnson Theater in Harlem, including Q&As with Graham and guests after 7:30 pm shows. The title will head to Los Angeles June 14 with additional markets set for June 21. Said Omera: “Word of mouth will be key, so [the film] needs time.”
The Child Remains
Director-writer: Michael Melski
Cast: Suzanne Clement, Allan Hawco, Shelley Thompson, Geza Kovacs
Distributor: Uncork’d Entertainment
Thriller The Child Remains is inspired by the true story of the infamous “Butterbox Babies.” The filmmaker styles it as an homage to “slow-burn vintage horror.”
“The script [was completed] in the fall of 2015, though I tweaked it even through production,” said writer-director-producer Michael Melski. “I was inspired by the creepy folklore of Nova Scotia, and the great atmospheric horror films of the ’70s. I knew I wanted to create a strong character and story-driven narrative which is too rare in the genre but it’s great to see it’s coming back into the spotlight due to the films of Jordan Peele and others.”
The project received financing in Canada through Telefilm Canada and the Nova Scotia Film Tax incentive with additional resources coming from federal tax incentives and a pre-sale to Superchannel.
The Child Remains centers on an expectant couple’s intimate weekend, which turns to terror when they discover their secluded country inn is a haunted maternity home where unwanted infants and mothers were murdered.
“Shelley Thompson was the first principal on board, I knew she would ace the role of Monica and I had her in mind while writing it,” noted Melski. “I was a fan of Allan Hawco’s work and he was the first offer that went out for Liam, and luckily he took it. My own agent Perry Zimel at OAZ in Toronto suggested Suzanne Clement, also a client of his, and she is just fantastic and created an amazing performance.”
The Child Remains shot over 15 days in December 2015. The first day of the shoot, at a cemetery in the woods, faced a big thunderstorm, which threatened to stop production. Melski looked for ‘divine’ help. “It was an eerie omen, and I even had a local priest bless the set that day,” explained Melski. “As it turns out, it was a good omen and everything went pretty smoothly after that, though making a feature in 15 days takes very hard work from everyone.”
Melski met with distributor Uncork’d at the 2018 AFM and the company eventually boarded The Child Remains for its U.S. release. The feature will open day and date, with 10 markets set for its theatrical roll out this weekend.